Le Guin, Dear Mother

It was Spring, 2001, when I first truly met you.
Your maps, rich with names I couldn’t read,
A magic that spoke to me, your words so true
That I could not help but know the power of a name.

When I was gifted the magic of words, they were yours.
I saw your wizard, his journey and tears, and they were mine,
Became even more dear to me than family, who never did
Show the love even Ged knew from his first teacher.

You were my true mother, and all I learned of life is you.
When Winter’s chill reached me, I walked with Genly
Through endless sorrow, and came through, stronger,
Because you wrote him into being, and me with him.

It was Spring, 2018, when the world lost you.
I never beheld your face. Never showed you
The tear-stained manuscripts I wrote for you.
But I love you, even now, and wish you knew

Dear Mother,
That one boy, so small and broken, was made your son by your words.

Photo credit Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch


Elegy of the Midwest

He who do, does.
He who don’t, don’t.
Really, simple as that.
He who is, was,
he who ain’t, ain’t.
Why argue ’bout it?
Take time with it,
the meaning a does.
When the doing ain’t
done, it becomes don’t.
No matter what it was
whatcha meant by that.
Y’all walk along that
divide, of what it
meant, or why it was
meant for them who does.
Life grows old with taint
on the vine. Don’t
Regret it. Life that’s
Lived gotta end, ain’t
no man go forever, it
grows and wanes, does
the doing, then buzz
goes the fly. Was
goes to is; don’t
say y’ain’t seen compost. Does
grass grow on that?
Like John in 1637, it
ends on water, faint
against the mornin’, paint
on a cross, saying who was.
Me and you, ends it
the same. Hearts don’t
pump forever. Simple as that:
He who do, does.

Don’t that matter? Was it
a forever “does,” then forever’d be
was. And that ain’t right.

The Phantom of the Opera: A Story of Surviving Abuse

Coming originally from author Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera is a staple story that many could discuss without having ever read the book or seen the films. It pervades our time with its narrative of love, loss, and suffering. Many may simply view The Phantom of the Opera as a simple love story. Three hopeless lovers caught in the classic triangle. But this story is so much more than that. It is a story of not only surviving abuse, but overcoming it.

One may assume that the abuse survivor here is Christine Daae, the young woman who is caught in the wiles of the Phantom. Yet, while she does survive a terrible ordeal that is abusive, she is not the person of interest in this observation of the story as one of overcoming abuse. The Phantom himself is the abuse survivor. Let me explain.

The Phantom was born with a facial anomaly, and it started his life immediately on a path of rejection and abuse. He described himself in one scene as having his mother’s fear and loathing. We also see that early on in his life, around the age of twelve, he is an unwilling sideshow in a circus, where is facial difference is the subject of ridicule and and torment. He is beaten by his captors, and treated with below human dignity. The severity of his situation is not unique to this story alone. Thousands of children suffer in like manner, to varying degrees, all over the world. The study of the effects of this on the minds and well being of children has lead to recent revelations on what is called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or CPTSD. Even long after the abuse is over, the survivors of this abuse continue to register in their brains that the danger is around them. Triggers of all kinds can lead to dysregulation, violent outbursts, and more. Seeing the life given to the Phantom in his early youth shows he was afflicted terribly, and made to feel he was unlovable, a monster, even evil.

The Phantom meets Christine in a Graveyard

As the Phantom matured, he remained isolated. And it is this isolation that continued the abuse long after his former abusers were dead or gone. The greatest abuse, however, isn’t physical. Many studies have shown that emotional, psychological abuse does greater damage and is harder to heal from than any other abuse. The Phantom lead his whole life believing he was unlovable. Even when he was protected by a young Madame Giry, who gave him asylum in the opera house, he was not shown affection. Given that he continued to wear a mask throughout his life, it is even possible that Madame Giry reviled his appearance, perhaps even encouraged his wearing of the mask.

The mask is a symbol of hiding. It is to cloak your true self, either to hide wrong doing, or to blend in, or become something you are not. Over time, the Phantom, believing the lie that he was a monster, became one. He acted in violence to get what he wanted. He claimed Christine was his. This narcissistic behavior is a reflection of who he believed he had to be to be accepted. It was a plea, a call to be heard, to be human, if even only as a villain in another person’s story.

The turning point for the Phantom, where he learns the truth, is when Christine is his captive, and he threatens to kill Raoul unless she stays with him. It is the Phantom at his most monstrous. Yet even with all that hate, Christine still shows him genuine compassion. Compassion is something he has never yet known. But it is what he has been missing. The Phantom, a survivor of decades of abuse, isolation, and loathing, had never known that even with all that was wrong in his life, he was still worthy of human kindness and decency.

It isn’t Christine that frees the Phantom from his cycle of abuse. She only opens the door by showing him compassion. In the end, it is the Phantom who saves himself. After years of abuse, he is finally met with the one message his mind had never been given: that he was loveable, as he was. That he was enough. Overcome by this emotional release, he lets both Christine and Raoul go. He is seen next, singing a somber rendition of “Masquerade,” as he regards a toy which recalls his lost childhood. He is sad not because of what he lost with Christine, but because of what he never had as a child. This moment is a reflection of his true self. He is unmasked, both physically and emotionally, and finally free. In this scene, he is crying at the release of those years of pain. He is himself for the first time. He lets go of who he became to survive, and is once again the twelve year old boy who longed to belong in the world. He is free.

As the film closes, we see that many years later, the Phantom is still alive, and likely living a normal life. This is shown by there being a ring and a rose left at the grave of the now late Christine; these were items he had held on to as reminders of his love for her. She showed him his first experience with true compassion. And from that, he was freed to lead a life not as a monster, but as a man.

Abuse manifests in many ways. But escaping the pains of it requires personal growth and serious effort. The process is painful, but the freedom is worth it.

Why Do We Have Pets?

Chances are either you or someone you know has a pet. They’re cuddly, warm, comforting, and even utilitarian. But why do we have them? When was it that a person decided, “you know what? I am going to keep this dog?” Was the decision originally purely utilitarian, or was there more at play in the minds of early mankind?

It might seem likely that the first creatures domesticated by humans would be farm animals. And that isn’t too far off. Goats and sheep are among the earliest creatures to be brought home to the villages of early humanity, with archeological records going back to 11,000 BCE. However, the dog wins when it comes to who came first to the human family. Earliest records of domesticated dogs go back to 14,000 BCE, the jawbone of a dog found in the Middle Eastern region of Iraq. Having dogs as pets could date back even further, as well.

Humans choosing dogs as their first pets makes sense when you consider the behavior of our species at the time. We were hunters, nomads, and wanderers. Dogs have a strong sense of pack hunting behavior, and would adapt quickly to life with humans. The bonds made back then have sense strengthened, hence the old adage, “dog is man’s best friend.” When it comes to the keeping of animals, dogs truly are man’s oldest, and best friend.

But why keep them as pets? After humanity discovered horticulture and began farming, building cities, and nations, dogs had been so interwoven into human culture that they were along for the ride. Different regions began breeding dogs to fit their own needs, creating new species. They were kept as guardians, trained for war, and still remained excellent hunting companions. But dogs became more than that. As they integrated into the story of mankind, they became loved. This bond, forged through time, eventually leads us to today, where dogs are owned for no other reason than because you wanted one. Many people own dogs that do not hunt, or guard, or are even of such small variety that they couldn’t do those things even if we wanted them to.

Pets, especially dogs, became companions to our species for many reasons. The simplicity of the connection is perhaps one of the greatest benefits. A dog won’t ask you why you are sad, or angry, or lonely; it will simply cuddle up to you and comfort you as it observes your emotion. The purr of a cat, or the coo of a parrot, or the lip smack of of a dog can have deep, comforting effects on their owners, letting them know that they are not alone, and that their efforts are noticed.

The simplicity of the compassion of pets is perhaps the greatest asset they provide to us. While hunting was and is important to many people, the keeping of domesticated creatures is more than for maintaining the needs of the belly. They fulfill the needs of the mind, the heart, and the soul. Many people have derived a sense of purpose from caring for animals. Leonhard Seppala, who ran dogsleds and was a principle sled runner in the Nome Serum Run of 1925, loved his dog Togo so much that he bred a new species, Seppela Siberian Sled dogs, to preserve his memory and bloodline.

No matter the reason, pets have become a major part of the human experience. People of all walks of life keep pets for various reasons, from managing livestock to managing emotions. It is a rich heritage, and one to be celebrated.

Stop Saying One Phrase and Sound Smarter

How we speak is almost as important as what we say and when we say it. Communication at its core is about sharing information, getting the others of our community to feel, see, or think what we are feeling, seeing, or thinking. It is through this substantive process of sharing our ideas that we as a species have been able to accomplish such amazing technological and scientific feats. No one accomplishment in our history has ever been completed by one person; it has always been performed by groups, even if the ideas came from a single being.

However, it is quite easy to speak with the equivalent of popcorn phrases: tasty, but empty. These phrases slip into our language all the time. Words like um or uh. They make for a good sound when you don’t know what to say, but cutting down on those fillers creates in the mind of the listener or reader a sense that you know what you’re talking about. Our brains are hardwired for language, as one article by Lera Boroditsky shows, and by taking time to trim your words like fat from a roast, you can create a more palatable string of thought for others to take in.

Language has not come easy to me. I have dyslexia, a condition of the mind that affects how I interpret information. After years of practice, I’ve turned this into a strength, allowing me to see things differently, think outside the box if you will. While I was serving a full-time proselyting mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was tasked with speaking with many people on a daily basis. As a missionary, you always travel with a companion, another missionary. And this granted me a chance to see how other people communicated, and how people responded to that communication. Early on, I was awkward. After all, I was only 19, fresh out of high school, and had never been much of a socialite, let alone someone who sought out opportunities to share my thoughts with others on the regular. There were growing pains.

But as time progressed, I began to see how certain words worked better for sharing what I meant to say, while others did not. And this is where I discovered the one phrase that if you never say it, you automatically will sound smarter, and more aware of any topic you are speaking on. The phrase is, “all these different things.” It’s a phrase used most often when you are listing out a number of connected ideas. By dropping this phrase, you change a list of ideas from vague, to comprehensive. You will sound like you are an authority, every time, simply by leaving out this phrase as you share your words with others.

Sometimes you may be tempted to say “all these different things,” rather than making a defined list of what things you mean. It’s easy to avoid being definitive. However, by being specific and naming the things you mean and those things only, you create a setting where you are now in control of your narrative. “All these different things” leaves room for your listener to add to your list. Leaving the phrase out sets a start and ending point for your thought. You set the tone, the parameters, and doing so makes you sound authoritative, and decisive.

Dropping this phrase is a great place to start if you want to clean up your language skills. This doesn’t mean that you are finished once you’ve done so, though. There are more phrases and words that are cluttering your vocabulary, and if you are serious about improving your communication skills, I suggest you do more research into the field of linguistics. A good place to start would be this article by Matthew McCreary.

Take some time to refine what you say. Don’t rely on platitudes to get your point across; they are too vague for others to truly grasp what you mean. There are better ways to speak and write, and in my experience, one of the best paths to being better with your words revolves around dropping “all these different things.” You don’t need it.

Mr. Cubbage in The Vault

Mr. Arnold Cubbage had worked from the ground up to become the Chief Executive Officer of the Bank of Scotland, Edinburgh branch. He’d maintained the absolute semblance of the sober mind to do it, and was quite proud of the fact. He didn’t drink, despite the frequent participation in the act by his friends and colleagues. He slept for precisely seven hours and fifteen minutes every night, went for a brisk walk every morning, and ate his meals with grace and dignity. Of course he’d hear the rumors in the break rooms and halls of how he was a prude, never living life beyond his own view, but that was how he liked it, so that was how he stayed.

Mr. Cubbage sat at his opulent red leather chair, twiddling a long, ornate silver and ebony fountain pen in his fingers; a gift from Chairmen. His curled mustache matched his curled golden hair, and the wrinkles around his eyes matched the small wrinkles in the end of his tie. He puffed a sigh of satisfaction as he again reviewed the current investments of the bank, and pressed his gold rimmed glasses back up his hooked nose.

A knock at the door shook him from his morning routine. Behind the stenciled glass Arnold could see Ms. Jean Heatherton, his chief of security. With a wave of his hand, she entered the room and came to the corner of his desk.

“Sir,” She said “There’s a man in the safety-deposit vault.”

That didn’t seem like something to interrupt his morning routine for, but he knew Ms. Heatherton not to be one to disrupt him without good cause. She could see from the look on his face that he didn’t grasp the severity of the situation.

“Let me clarify,” Jean continued. Arnold picked up his mug and started to slurp his coffee. “We didn’t let him in there.”

Arnold paused. Had it not been improper, he might have spit out the coffee and responded hastily. He swallowed, leaned back in his chair, and took off his glasses.

“You mean to tell me there is a robber in the vault, and you don’t know how he got there?” Arnold kept a perfect equilibrium in his voice. The image of self-importance hung about him like fog in the hills.

“We’re not sure if he’s a robber. He’s… Somehow he got in there, we can see him on the camera, but the vault is still locked—hasn’t been opened all day. The staff thought I should get you because—”

Arnold scoffed.

“I’m not the lock-smith! Come now, what would I be needed for here? Call the authorities.”

Arnold hoped his well-poised non-attitude toward the situation would defuse his growing concern. A man, in my vaults? The board could have my head for this…

“Well, that’s just the thing sir,” Jean continued. “The man in the vault is… It’s you.”

There was a lengthy silence before Arnold made a short laugh. Not the jovial kind of a man made the fool, but the mechanical laugh of good manners.

“Tell Joseph in HR his jokes are too much,” Arnold said, making a show of wiping the corners of his eyes. Jean didn’t move. She wasn’t smiling. This made Arnold uneasy. Surely this couldn’t be serious. It was a jest, perhaps put on by Tom in accounting, or Fredrick at home-office, one of his good-sport moments to keep the branch in high spirits.

Yet, there was a growing clump of people forming outside the office door, and hushed whispers could be heard of their conversations.

“Very well,” Arnold said, standing up and straightening his jib. He couldn’t well let this farce go on without allowing himself to be properly joked. Morale of the company was an important part of what made him the man he was, so he thought. “Take me to the vault, and we’ll have done with this whole prank.”

“Sir,” Jean replied, but Arnold cut her off with his assumptions.

“Yes, yes,” He said with a wink, “Not a prank,”

Jean smiled weakly, clearly confused by the entire situation. As the approached the door, the crowd outside dispersed as quickly as dandelion silk in a summer wind.

Arnold approached the vault door and found Greg, Jean’s second in command, was already there, pistol and club at the ready.

“Those shouldn’t be necessary,” Arnold said, waving his hand in command.

“Sir, I—” Greg protested.

“I’ll be out in a moment. No flash photography, hmm?”

Arnold turned the key and wound the tines into place. The door clanked and popped, opening slightly. In he stepped, and pulled the door shut behind him. And there in the vault stood a man—wearing the very same tweed suit, the same almond wing-tipped shoes, and the same face Arnold had seen in the mirror that morning, right down to the clock-wise curl of his waxed mustache.

“Good morning,” he said. It took Arnold a moment to realize it wasn’t he, but he, who had spoken.

“This is an impressive costume,” Arnold replied, deeply unsettled by the uncanny resemblance.

“No costume,” He replied. “I am you. In the skin.”

“No,” Arnold said, “You most certainly are not. This joke is getting on my nerves, now, good sir, and I demand you remove the mask and step out of the vault. If this is meant to be funny you could at least have the decency to start with a knock knock or some such.”

“It’s not a joke, I assure you. I wasn’t expecting to see me here, either.”

“How did you get in here?” Arnold demanded.

“Sub-containeously, I suppose.”

“What?” Arnold felt his forehead bristle. “I have no idea what that means. Now tell me, who are you, and how did you get here?”

“Well,” he continued. “I recently heard that subcutaneous had to do with being beneath the skin. And it seems, I’ve traveled beneath the skin of the world, you see, to get here. I suppose it isn’t a word, but I’ve just coined the phrase, it seems.” He giggled. “I was in one container of space, and now I’m in this one. Poof! Ha Ha!”

This annoyed Arnold even more. I do not giggle, he thought. This cannot be me.

“Who are you?” Arnold demanded.

“I’m me,” he said, pointing. Then with a timid point at Arnold he said, “And you are me.”

“No,” Arnold protested. “This is ridiculous.”

“I know, isn’t it great?”

Arnold wasn’t amused. His life was one of order. Always had been. He wouldn’t entertain this foolishness any longer.

“Now see here,” Arnold said, “I am a man of import. I will not have my name besmirched by some ridiculousness like this. You—” But as Arnold spoke, the other man disappeared and reappeared instantly on the other side of the vault.

“What was that?” Arnold said, too wrapped in what he was saying to grasp the absurdity of what had just happened.

“I moved, it seems,” he said. “It’s not that hard.”

“Right,” Arnold continued, “well, you are clearly disturbed, and I have no choice but to—” the man vanished again, and returned to the back of the vault.

“Stop that,” Arnold said in a fatherly tone of disapproval. But the other man just laughed.

“This is no laughing matter. Identity theft is—”

“I am you, and you are me, don’t you see? You could do this too, if you wanted.” the other man said.

“You’re a looney!” Arnold yelled. “I’ll have no more of this.”

“Who is really the crazy one?” He asked. “I’ve lived more in these last four minutes than you have in your whole life! Trust me, I know. Just give it a try, it’s exhilarating.”

Arnold grunted, and started to mumble angrily. Not because he was frustrated, but because he was actually considering it. He had tried a different flavor of jam on his toast that morning. Was this so different? Could he, too, move without moving? Yes, it was that different. It was ludicrous.

“Trust me,” the other man said, “If you don’t let go of your ego, in a few minutes things are going to be pretty weird.”

“You dare to threaten me?” Arnold said, his façade cracking. He had to hold back his smile. Clearly this man was insane, but his oddly good humor was contagious. “I am an important man here at the bank.”

“We sure are.”

“Prove that you’re me,” Arnold retorted.

“We had apple jam this morning instead of raspberry.”

“You could have just been at the restaurant this morning, is all.”

“When I was a child, I let the family dog out of the fence to chase a tom cat, and he ran into the road and was hit by a motorist. I never told my parents it was me who let him out.”

Arnold blanched. It was true. He’d never told anyone. Only he would know.

“Lucky guess,” Arnold said.

He laughed. A truly mirthful laugh, entirely unlike Arnold would.

“What time is it?” He asked. Arnold checked his watch.

“five minutes ‘til eleven,” Arnold said, then he perked up. “Aha! You cannot be me, for I always wear my watch.” He stood triumphant.

“True,” He said, “But the sub-containeous movement seems to have left my watch all wonky. I’ll be moving on now, or rather you will. Tada.” And at that, the other man was gone.

Arnold was stood still for a moment, wondering what it all meant. Then he hefted a breath, hitched his belt, and turned to leave. He hoped he hadn’t been in here too long, since he did have an important conference call at eleven thirty. He checked his watch as he approached the vault door, but found it was spinning wildly, the second hand running in reverse, the minute hand bouncing back and forth between seven and eight.

Confused, Arnold looked up, and found he was no longer facing the door, but was in the corner of the vault. Then he was back at the door, then he was in the middle of the floor.

“Oh, dear,” Arnold said aloud, smiling, “I’ve gone mad.” He chuckled. What was it he had said earlier? Sub-containeous?

The door clanked and popped, opening slightly. In he stepped, and pulled the door shut behind him. And there in the vault stood a man—wearing the very same tweed suit, the same almond wing-tipped shoes, and the same face Arnold had seen in the mirror that morning, right down to the clock-wise curl of his waxed mustache.

“Good morning,” he said. It took Arnold a moment to realize it wasn’t he, but he, who had spoken.

Heart Sick

It’s a disease. Insidious, eating you from the inside out,
That feeling that everything is falling, getting behind,
Like a stack of bills ever growing, the stack of wood
dwindling for the hungry fire, where no warmth is found,
only cold, pulling you in, eating you from the inside out.

It’s a disease that preys on your weaknesses. It knows you,
knows your fears, your pains, and views you clearly when
you can only see through a fog, it cuts you off from any
escape, closing in the thick miasma, until you cannot see
any way out, and you pray, in your weakness, to know peace.

Cold fire, predator, little death by a thousand needles in my skin.
I want to breathe free of the smoke, please, give me my medicine.

A.C. Moore Sonnet 4: Singularity

The first infinity. Compressed zeros,
A point of mass finely pressed in the dark.
Between stars and milk spilt in the cosmos,
God’s toolbox works gravities endless lark.

There it is, beyond that far horizon,
The enthroned singularity, hidden.
In the shredded matter, quarks and bosons,
A force, by which even light is ridden.

Hidden. Indeed. We see only partly
Via math, not eyes, spread on sheets and screens.
How can I believe in that which hardly
Is known by primate minds, which mostly scream:

Might is Right! Well, eternal truth endures;
Even when eternal darkness obscures.

Place of Our Own

A Villanelle

I want to buy my wife a home,
But they are few and far between;
Instead we lie beneath the loam.
We bought a car, reflecting chrome,
But Uncle Sam came with a lien.
I want to buy my wife a home
Away from our nation’s dry bone,
Where we can live and find the means—
Instead we lie beneath the loam.
The eagle perched upon the dome,
Perhaps, never held freedom’s scene?
I want to buy my wife a home
Of ashes. Built upon fields lone.
Escape the rot, or maybe clean—
I want to buy my wife a home,
Instead we lie beneath the loam.

Earth Voice

A Villanelle

Cicada calls astound the pines,
Memorial of autumn night,
Apotheosis by designs.
And air rings through man’s empty mines,
Earth ear from which bats oft take flight,
Cicada calls astound the pines
In twilight umber. View the shrines,
Memorials to sound and sight–
Apotheosis by designs.
And Kami borne among those lines,
Now stand on earth, in awful might!
Cicada calls, astound the pines!
Earth is a God of thoughtful signs,
And every sound a holy rite.
Cicada calls astound the pines,
Apotheosis by designs.